Estancia La Bamba de Areco
Located 123 kilometres northwest of Buenos Aires, the Estancia La Bamba is located in a gorgeous rural setting, surrounded by sweeping grass plains, babbling creeks and tree-lined paddocks. In fact, the surrounding countryside looks a lot like county Victoria – green farmland, grain silos, corn and chicken farms. Even eucalypts mixed among elms, firs and other trees. The main difference is it's much flatter – there is little topological variety. The final stretch to reach the property takes us off the main roads and on to a dirt track.
We're met at the gate by a gaucho on horseback who leads us along a beautiful tree-lined avenue to the entrance to the ranch, where the entire staff is lined-up to greet us individually. The colonial-style main building is a striking red, built around a central courtyard and surrounded by vast gardens, including a polo field. The lounge, dining room and library are all located in this building and nearby is La Pulperia, a 19th-Century structure formerly used as a shelter for horses and carriages but now converted into a lodge-style lounge and breakfast area. At the rear of the property are the elegant stables, which almost match the homestead in their grandeur. There's also a swimming pool – one of the more modern touches for property that dates back to 1830. Estancia La Bamba first became a guest house in the 70s but was purchased in 2007 by a French polo fan (hence the field) and underwent major renovations, reopening in 2010. It features 11 rooms and suites, each named after a famous polo horse.
The room is fairly minimalist, though fits with the feel of the property. There's a high, wrought-iron four-poster bed, an open fireplace and an antique dresser (but no wardrobe). The bathroom has a classic French feel, with chequered tiles and a bidet. There is a bath with a hand shower, but there is only a cradle for the shower head above the bath taps – there's no wall fixture to place it in, so showering is a little impractical. This seems to be a deliberate style choice to encourage relaxing baths over quick showers.
Meals are all-inclusive, which is a necessity unless you have your own transport. Fortunately there's no reason you would want to miss any of the meals. The quality of the food is excellent and, as you would expect from a rural Argentinean property, meat features heavily on the menu. Lunch is in an outdoor barbecue area, while dinner is in the communal dining room. It's a good opportunity to mingle with the other guests (there are also nightly pre-dinner drinks in the lounge and are also included) from diverse backgrounds – during my stay I meet visitors from Australia, the UK, Brazil, France and the US. It's three course meals at night and the chef is present to tell us about the dishes, which maintain local traditions with modern twists.
This is a rural escape, so there's no real need to leave the property. The estancia offers a range of activities to keep guests entertained. Horseback riding is the most popular option, with the resident gauchos available to provide guided rides in the mornings and afternoons. The polo field is also put to use during my visit, with the estancia's own team taking on another local group in a practice match. A highlight is also a performance by one of the station's gauchos who shows off extraordinary "horse whisperer" skills to put on a display that can best be described as "horse yoga". The trust between man and beast as they position themselves into a variety of poses is highly impressive.
Like the property featured in that classic Simpsons episode, Estancia La Bamba is a real-life 'Rancho Relaxo' ideal for recharging the batteries after a hectic visit to bustling Buenos Aires, while also offering some cultural insight to Argentina's gaucho traditions.
How to get there
LAN flies from Sydney to Santiago via Auckland with connections to Buenos Aires. South America Travel Centre (see below) can arrange transfers to Estancia La Bamba from the city. http://www.lan.com
See and Do
The South America Travel Centre can create tailor-made itineraries including accommodation, transfers, activities and domestic travel across the continent. See http://southamericatravelcentre.com.au
Rooms at Estancia La Bamba start from $US590 ($830) per room per night, low season (from $US790 ($1103) per night high season). Prices include meals, drinks (including alcoholic drinks during meal times) and activities. See http://www.labambadeareco.com
The writer travelled as a guest of the South America Travel Centre and LAN.